We’re breaking down a football district a day — from 2A to 8A. Today: Class 7A, District 7.
Listed in order of 2011 finish, with overall/district record
1. Tampa Bay Tech (9-3, 5-0)
2. Gaither (9-4, 4-1)
3. Steinbrenner (7-3, 3-2)
4. Freedom (2-8, 2-3)
5. Chamberlain (1-9, 1-4)
6. Wiregrass Ranch (0-10, 0-6)
Did you know?
Though he’s entering only his fourth season, Wiregrass Ranch’s Jeremy Shobe is the dean of coaches in this wide-open district. Three schools (Steinbrenner, Freedom, Chamberlain) will roll out new coaches this fall. Tampa Bay Tech’s Jayson Roberts and Gaither’s Jason Stokes are entering their second seasons.
Four things to expect this fall
The unexpected: We’re projecting the outcome of this district (see below) only because the boss made us. As dawn breaks on the season, this one appears as tough to predict as Lady Gaga’s next wardrobe. All five Hillsborough teams appear capable of reaching the playoffs.
Hail to the Chiefs? If the spring was any sign, Chamberlain has been rejuvenated by the arrival of new coach D.J. Mayo. A former Port Orange Atlantic offensive coordinator, Mayo has installed accountability, pride and a spread-option run game conducive to his stable of sleek backs. The Chiefs drubbed Blake in their one-half jamboree outing. Was it a harbinger of a resurgent autumn?
Forward progress: In its first three years of existence, Steinbrenner has improved from 0-6 to 5-5 to 7-3. Can the Warriors continue this trend under new coach Andres Perez? Many believe so.
Bulls still rebuilding: Wiregrass Ranch struggled last year with injuries and a defense that gave up 43 points per game in the district. The Bulls have promising young players, including sophomore WR Jay Miner, but are likely a year or two away from closing the gap.
Players to watch
RB Xavier Johnson, Chamberlain: A 1,700-yard rusher as a junior, Johnson may be hard-pressed to equal that total this season, but only because he’s surrounded by some talented complementary backs.
Ath Shug Oyegunle, Gaither: The X factor in the Cowboys’ offense, Oyegunle will be the bane of defensive coordinators assigned to contain him. Look for him to run short routes in the slot, take handoffs in motion and dash downfield for long balls from QB Alex McGough.
QB Shane Bucenell, Wiregrass Ranch: Bulls coaches are beaming about the projected starter. The sophomore has a strong arm and solid accuracy and looked good during 7-on-7 games this summer.
QB Curtis Fitch, Steinbrenner: Though only a junior, this son of an offensive coordinator (USF’s Todd Fitch) enters 2012 as one of Hillsborough County’s most seasoned quarterbacks. Though built more like a fullback, he appears capable of making all the throws, and making the players around him follow his lead.
WR/CB Tajee Fullwood, Tampa Bay Tech: Lanky (6-2, 170 pounds) and agile, this East Bay transfer shapes up as a matchup nightmare at corner, capable of shutting down half the field.
“I think it’s going to be another dogfight. Gaither’s going to be another tough team. Steinbrenner, from what we saw in the (USF) Sling ‘N’ Shoot, they’re going to be somebody to reckon with. Wiregrass is gonna be better, Chamberlain as well; they had a great showing in their spring game. We’re not coming in expecting it to be easy at all.” — TBT coach Jayson Roberts
Mark your calendar
Tampa Bay Tech at Gaither, Nov. 2: In one year, Gaither-Tampa Bay Tech has blossomed into the type of hostile rivalry we adore. Last November, the Titans rallied with a fourth-quarter, 17-play drive to win the regular season matchup and district title. Three weeks later, Gaither got its revenge with a three-point playoff win. The feud has spilled over into the summer, with some intense 7-on-7 meetings.
2. Tampa Bay Tech
6. Wiregrass Ranch
Also in this series:
Joey Knight and Matt Baker, Times staff writers